Evaluating student progress - Expectations and milestones

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Apr 10, 2006 7:47 am

One of the most common, and most difficult to answer, questions we get at PEP from parents is whether their child's progress in piano lessons is at an "appropriate" level and, if not, whether they should change teachers. The question is hard to answer because there are such wide differences in teaching style, innate student talent, degree of student commitment, lesson approach (solid overall background in piano or immediate gratification) and many other variables. However, it seems to me that teachers, parents and students can benefit from a discussion of this important topic here.

If you're a teacher, what do you think are some reasonable milestones for student achievement after 6 months, a year and 2 years in lessons? What must students do to reach those milestones? As a parent, what would you like to have in the way of better feedback about your children's progress in lessons? If you are a student, are you satisfied with your progress in lessons? I have asked these questions as a means of starting discussion, but I fully realize that a good discussion of this topic may, or should, include other aspects as well. So, let us know what YOU think! :)
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Mon Apr 10, 2006 6:15 pm

It is difficult for me to define a 'milestone' in general for 6 months, one year or two years.

As I teach to the individual student, there are many variables. Even when I look at the ages, it is

hard to compare.

If I had to say, at the end of one year (piano year), I would hope that except for the Kindergartners, I would expect notes to be learned on the keyboard and staff, several pieces to play for memory, understanding of rhythm, some key signatures memorized, all easily figured out, understanding of some theory, harmony, as well as some information learned about composers and a variety of classics learned. I also hope that they have composed some pieces, and are able to play scales and arpeggios and inversions with some ease.

I am sure I am leaving out things, The most important to me is that the student wishes to continue next year. Whatever was not covered can be continued!

I have two families with boys 5 and 8 and 6 and 8. One family keeps practicing going and one does not. Needless to day, the learning is far slower. The boys who practice, are also highly motivated - the other two are not. I used to think this was the teacher's job - well, I do the best I can, in fact, I work very hard to find music to motivate the boys. One can only do so much.

After two years, according to age and ability, I would hope that the student is able to pick up a piece of music and figure it out for themself. They may need help with something new, or a tricky rhythm or other, but basically, they would feel comfortable in starting a piece on their own (at their level of course). I have two 8 years old girls who are not quite there - sometimes confidence is all that is needed.

I will continue to think on this.

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Postby Stretto » Fri Apr 14, 2006 1:00 pm

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:One of the most common, and most difficult to answer, questions we get at PEP from parents is whether their child's progress in piano lessons is at an "appropriate" level and, if not, whether they should change teachers . . .
If you're a teacher, what do you think are some reasonable milestones for student achievement after 6 months, a year and 2 years in lessons? What must students do to reach those milestones?

I second the comments loveapiano made.

Here's some things that a student needs to make sure is happening in order not to hinder progress:

1. Be certain to practice regularly according to your teachers requirements.

2. Don't just play an assignment over and over until you "get it". Break it into smaller chunks like practice each line, measure, phrase, and small groups of notes several times each day hands separately and hands together.

3. When playing, ask yourself what the hard spots are (usually one's that you find yourself pausing on or making the same mistakes every time). Practice these problem spots by themselves several times each day. Ask your teacher for help on the hard spots at the next lesson.

4. Be sure to complete everything your teacher assigns. (Tell her/him if you feel the assignments are too big).

5. At the lesson BE SURE TO LISTEN CLOSELY TO YOUR TEACHERS DIRECTIONS and try your best to do what your teacher shows you at the lesson.

These are the "biggies" I feel that hinder a student's progress. My concern is that a parent or student who isn't seeing much progress might switch teachers blaming the teacher for lack of progress when the student is not doing the above.

The biggest problems I've had with student's progress moving slower than it should be is lack of practice, not practicing efficiently, and not listening or paying attention to the teacher at the lesson. I think a parent or student needs to make sure none of these things are causing the problem before considering switching teachers (unless there are other factors about the teacher that would give a cause to change).

As far as milestones, it does take longer to learn music and get to a point one would like than most people realize. Most people seem to expect their child to be playing well by the end of only 1 yr. of lessons. Actually it takes about a year just to learn the basics. Learning to play the piano seems to me to be very similar to learning to read. In learning to read, one needs to learn the letters, the sounds they make, the sounds combinations of letters make, read words, read them in a sentence, etc., etc. It takes quite a while to get to the point where one can actually pick up a book and just read it. The building blocks of reading are the most important part in the whole learning to read process. Learning to read music, and play the piano seems very similar in the amount of time it takes before one can just open up a music book and began to figure out a piece independently.

I think the beginning levels, typically levels 1 and 2 are the one's that the most time should be spent on without worrying about "hurrying things along." The trouble is no one likes to hang around the beginning levels too long as most students are in a hurry to get to where they can play the tunes or pieces they really want. It's my opinion that the beginning levels, like levels 1 and 2 or first 2 years of lessons are the very hardest of all musical learning. Between year 1 and 2 are the years many start to get frustrated as they are not seeing as quick or results as they expected and consider quitting. They need to try to stick it out at least to the end of level 2, preferrably level 3 or I believe they would be quitting prematurely.

I would say if a student can at least make it to level 3 at a minimum, which would be about early intermediate, they should know enough about music to be able to sight read or figure out most simple to moderate pieces or tunes independently.

I ran into a problem of a parent making a deal with their kids to try lessons for 1 year and at the end of 1 year if they didn't like it they could quit. The only problem with this is that by the end of 1 year a student has just barely learned the building blocks. Also, the student spent the whole summer barely practicing at all. At level 2, a student should start being able to play well, lots of nice simple pieces. Level 2 is actually my favorite level because the pieces are nice simple tunes that sound good and are fun to play.

I would really recommend staying in lessons through level 3 or early intermediate level in order for a student to really get to a point where they are happy with their playing. If a student is following the list I mentioned mainly practicing and listening to the teacher's directions, they should be able to reach this point in 3 - 4 years. The biggest set-backs my students have had is long periods of little or no practice or difficulty listening and paying attention to my directions at the lesson. For example, playing the piano while I'm talking, trying to 'run' the lesson, basically doing anything and everything but listening to me.

A lot depends on the student too, age, etc. A couple specific examples: I had a couple students who took 3 years to get to the middle of level 2 in a method, they were not practicing faithfully and had a lot of weeks here and there of little practice and a whole summer of hardly no practice. However, they are still enjoying playing and being in lessons and now are practicing more. Another student within a year is already starting level 2 music because they practice regularly, follow my directions well, work ahead from what I assign, learn music on their own in addition to what I assign, etc.

I might add that just based solely on my experience, I've found in general that students around 7 or 8 and under will take a little longer to get to the same point as students around 9 yrs. old and up do. But the nice thing about the younger one's is they are more happy with what they can play at the moment and aren't in a hurry to advance like the older students are.

But again, I would reiterate it best to take things slowly and not try to advance too quickly. When you think about, if you start lessons at 7 years old, by the time your 18, that's 11 years! If you get to what is around level 6 or late intermediate in most mainstream method books by that time, you'll be playing some pretty difficult stuff and if you get past that point in that amount of time, you'll be playing some really advanced stuff!

I can't stress enough, if you're practicing, you should be progressing! It's practice that is going to make or break how well you do more than anything your teacher can show you. Again, PRACTICE = PROGRESS!

p.s. I based most of what I said about "levels" on mainstream method books like Faber and Faber, Bastien, Alfred's, Glover, etc.

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